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Their Time Was Up
There was a sound so loud it was like he was waking up from a dream
Note: Technically this week’s post should be for subscribers only but, you know, it’s Christmas. Think of it as a gift. That said, this is not a very festive story (the intended association is more with New Year’s) – if you’d like to read something from me that is appropriately seasonal I have a tale of Christmas in the Old West appearing in Apocalypse Confidential’s “Blue Christmas” special, which was published earlier this week. It’s called "The Widow Ondrey" and is, I think, one of the better pieces I wrote this year, so please check it out. Happy Holidays <3
Stalwart Sandframe and Crystal Bauuer met in the dark by the roadside, on a quiet road on the coast, where the break crashed against the rocks all day and all night and rinsed the air with a steady thrumming mesh. They met on a small lonely spit of tiretracked dust clawed from the rockface near a state-designated Scenic Point, where a winding little path led up to a mound cleared of trees, a place where they could have looked out onto the moon glistening on cargo ships a hundred miles away, if they had wanted to. But they didn’t want to. Stalwart and Crystal stayed down in the dirt instead, by his car, by the roadside, and they had their exchange there. They had nothing to discuss, as far as Stalwart was concerned, but Crystal didn’t agree. She had called the house she was never supposed to call, the house that he put on his taxes, the house where his wife sometimes slept, the house full of servants he couldn’t trust but couldn’t let go, either, without his wife getting suspicious, and then where would he be? She had called the house and told him he needed to come, and when he had brushed her off, she had called again. And when he hung up on her, she had called again. And when he tried to ignore her calls, they didn’t stop. She kept calling and calling, again and again, until one day he picked up the phone and told her to meet him here, by the roadside, in the dark and the dust, and they could have their discussion, whatever it was. He had poured the honey into his voice, the honey that made the words go down smooth, the honey that he had fed to her the first time they met, in the bar with the dirty mirrors and watered-down booze, and that she had swallowed then, quite eagerly, and opened her mouth for more. But now it he could hear a catch in her throat, like she wasn’t sure if she wanted it anymore, like she was thinking of spitting it back up at him, sending it oozing back through the telephone, thinner and wetter than before, to drip all over his tailored suit, and make a horrible mess of it. But she didn’t. She let herself believe it, and she told him she would be there.
Stalwart had brought a gun. First it was in the glovebox of his car, then, when he started to think about it, it was in his coat pocket instead, leaning heavily against him. Crystal walked. She tried to get a man to take her, a man she met in another bar, or maybe it was the same bar, but he had only taken her two-thirds of the way before he had gotten fed up, and too drunk, and had pushed her out onto the road, and drove off, far away, into the bushes to vomit and fall asleep. So she had walked the rest. And when she got there he was standing by his car, in the dust and the dark, with a nail file in his hand, whittling away time. And the gun was heavy in his coat pocket. And he asked her what it was, that she thought was so important she needed to break the rules, the rules she had agreed to when they started this thing, remember, had promised that she would follow for both their sakes, because they were, they really were, it was better for both of them right now to be patient, and be careful, and take their time, it wasn’t the right time, she had to wait and be patient, didn’t she know that? And he poured lots of honey in, and tried to make it sweet for her, sweet like he really meant it, like he really loved her. And he thought he was convincing her, like he always had before. But then she said she couldn’t wait any longer. She said their time was up. She said: “It’s yours.” Then he couldn’t think anymore. It was like he was watching himself, and he didn’t know what he was doing, and he didn’t care, either. Anything was alright, as long as it was something. And he noticed the heaviness wasn’t in Stalwart Sandframe’s coat pocket anymore. It was in his hand. Then there was a sound so loud it was like he was waking up from a dream, and he saw the gun was in his hand, and Crystal was clutching her stomach, and moaning, and she was staggering, one step, two steps, towards him. He saw that he had shot her. He heard a sound in the distance, different from the warm night breeze. After a moment like a century, he realized it was an engine. A car. A car that was coming towards him and Crystal, and would catch them there, in a criminal tableau on the side of the road, unless he did something. And so as Crystal was falling forwards, and her life was draining away out a hole in her belly, he caught her, and took her in his arms, like he loved her, and he pressed her against him, and felt her rattling breath on his cheek. She smelled like smoke and perfume, not an expensive one, he knew, but one that he had been fond of, for the way it clung to the clothes only a little but hung in the air of a bedroom like a satin cloud, once, two lifetimes ago. And as the headlights approached he draped her arm around his shoulder and leaned them both, a little awkwardly against the car, and pressed his lips against hers, almost gently, so that when the car drove by, its headlights fell only upon two lovebirds, locked in an embrace, oblivious to the world, caring only for each other, for this moment spent together, the back of her head quite thoroughly obscuring his face. And he felt her lips move atop his, as if trying to form a word she hadn’t the air left to speak, and then a heaviness spread through her body, and settled there, and when he withdrew his face from hers he saw that she was dead.
The car disappeared into the distance, and the roadside was quiet again. Stalwart extricated himself and dragged the body to the backseat of his car. Then he drove to an even quieter place, one where he knew there would be no disturbances, and set to work dismembering.
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